On Friday, the Tampa Bay Rays finalized a one-year, $3.5-million (plus incentives) deal with OF Avisail Garcia. To make room on the 40-man roster, Tampa Bay designated RHP Oliver Drake for the second time this offseason.
With the acquisition of Garcia, the Rays are thought to have completed the offensive construction of their roster with less than one month remaining until pitchers and catchers report to camp.
Tampa Bay has been in the market for a right-handed bat to pair with DH/1B Ji-Man Choi and Garcia fits that description to a large extent. The outfielder was plagued with knee and hamstring issues last season, limiting him to just 93 games in which he slashed a disappointing .236 BA/.281 OBP/.438 SLG/.719 OPS line over 385 plate appearances, with a -4 DRS in the outfield, leading to a modest 0.3 fWAR in spite of his power profile. In 2017, however, Garcia enjoyed a breakout campaign, performing to a .330 BA/.380 OBP/.506 SLG/.886 OPS line across 561 plate appearances, with 18 home runs, 80 RBI and a 4.6 fWAR.
The question begs: which Garcia are they getting? Let’s dig into that.
The known known: Avisail Garcia hits the ball hard.
Garcia has posted average exit velocities of 90.2 MPH, 90.3 MPH, and 90.2 MPH since 2016. Moreover, Garcia hit the ball +95 MPH on 43.2% of the balls he made contact with. His hard-hit rate finds him ranking 55th (2016), 22nd (2017), and 57th (2018) in all of Major League Baseball.
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He not only has the ability to barrel up the balls, but his peripherals also suggest that he has lots of success on balls in play. Over the span of his career, Garcia has a 45.8% GB rate (over 50% since 2016 and just under at 48.6% last season). Jason Hanselman (The Process Report) wrote about Garcia’s ability to scorch the ball, especially vs. left-handed pitchers:
…all that incredibly hard contact even at those downward trajectories and he has seen a good deal of even the lower angles go for base hits solely due to how very hard he hits the ball. Hard contact is always the first step, and while many will think all he needs to do is lift the ball more, it doesn’t look like he actually has much success via that route other than when he’s pairing ideal angles with very hard contact. Something you could tell every player to do more often. Looking at lefties you can see how much of his production came on line drive like contact including many of his homers that were utterly scorched piss missiles clearing low walls. Like with Yandy Diaz, many would like to see more elevation leading to celebration, but it’s an approach that is already working. Unlike Diaz, Garcia’s inability to control the zone means he has no margin on this type of contact. If he isn’t hitting the ball hard then he’s not going to have the kind of success necessary for his role. Luckily, that looks like something you can project going forward.
Garcia has slashed .304 BA/.358 OBP/.457 SLG/.815 OPS/121 wRC+ against southpaws over his career, including a .279 BA/.333 OBP/.477 SLG/.780 OPS/119 wRC+ last season — one of the worst campaigns of his career.
Garcia is expected to play right field or DH against left-handed pitchers and compete for playing time against some right-handers.
Superlatives aside, Garcia saw his K% balloon from 19.8% in 2017 to 26.5% just one season later. Meanwhile, his BB% has been in a steady decline since 2016. Meanwhile, his launch angle increased from 5.4% in 2016 to 9.7% last season, and he began to pull the ball more than ever before (43.6% in 2018). Garcia attributed all of this to an injury-marred campaign 2018 campaign.
I had been feeling something, something, something (in my knee) and then I started feeling my hammy because I think I was (favoring it), Garcia told Manny Randhawa (MLB.com). Especially because it’s my right knee, and that’s where all my power is.
The outfielder ultimately underwent the knife to surgically repair his knee in October, which Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote about on Saturday.
…with his hamstring healed, his knee surgically repaired in early October and the resulting bad habits eradicated from his swing, Garcia is confident he can return to his old form with his new Rays team.
“One hundred percent, Garcia said Friday night,” after his deal for $3.5 million, plus up to $2.5 million of plate-appearance based incentives, was finalized. “For sure. I know what I can do. I know my swing. I’ve just got to be healthy and ready to go. And that’s how I am right now.”
Garcia has been “working on hitting more to right-center,” writes Topkin.
His outfield play has gotten mixed reviews, which Darby Robinson (DRaysBay) wrote about below, although he has a strong arm.
At first glance, Garcia seems like somebody who isn’t a very good defender. I’ve seen that written in comments and tweets so far.
But is he?
DRS sure doesn’t look very kindly on him; however, Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric paints a different picture.
In 2018, Avisail Garcia was worth 4 Outs Above Average, which is more than Kevin Pillar (2) and Mallex Smith (-2) to put into some perspective. By this metric, his past few years he’s ranked 33rd (2018), 76th (2017), and 67th (2016).
Garcia is also faster than he might appear with his 6’4” 240 LB frame. He has a sprint speed (ft/second) of 29.0 f/s, where a sprint speed of 30 f/s is considered Elite. Again, for some perspective, Garcia’s 29.0 ranks equal to Dee Gordon (29.0) and slightly ahead of Kevin Kiermaier (28.9).
Avisail Garcia does not seem like a terrible outfielder. He isn’t going to dazzle like Pham and KK in the field, but Garcia has the versatility and ability to fill in nicely in the corners. With the injury histories of Kiermaier, Pham, and Meadows, it’s useful to have contingency plans in place.
Garcia might not be Nelson Cruz, yet he is a solid buy-low on an above average hitter who fits the team’s needs and he seems like a worthy gamble. If he can overcome his injury derailed 2018 campaign, the $3.5-million acquisition will be justified. If, on the other hand, Garcia puts together a season like Carlos Gomez, his predecessor, the budget conscious Rays could always peruse the other options ready and willing to run with the opportunity, given the chance.
— Topkin writes that the most glaring need for the Rays is a veteran closer.
As much as the Rays like Alvarado, Castillo and Roe and want to give them chances, they could benefit from someone with some “been there, done that” experience. They should be able to wait out the market, with opportunity a part of their pitch. Then again, with Cody Allen getting $8.5 million, plus $2.5 million in incentives, from Anaheim coming off a bad year, there may not be any bargains to be had.
— Catcher Mike Zunino was ranked ninth on MLB Network’s annual Top 10 Catchers Right Now!, finishing one spot ahead of the Kansas City Royals’ Salvador Pérez and one spot behind the New York Mets’ Wilson Ramos. Joey Wendle was previously ranked seventh on Top 10 Second Basemen Right Now! last week.
The complete ranking for MLB Network’s top-10 catchers is listed below:
1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
2. J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins
3. Yasmani Grandal, Milwaukee Brewers
4. Gary Sánchez, New York Yankees
5. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
6. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
7. Kurt Suzuki, Washington Nationals
8. Wilson Ramos, New York Mets
9. Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays
10. Salvador Pérez, Kansas City Royals